The most common single nucleotide polymorphism in the coding region of the human mu opioid receptor gene is the A118G variant, an adenine to guanine transition at nucleotide position 118 of the coding sequence of the gene. This polymorphism codes for an asparagine to aspartic acid substitution at amino acid 40 in the amino-terminus, thereby removing a potential extracellular glycosylation site. Using in vitro cellular expression assays, this variant has been reported to change binding of the endogenous agonist beta-endorphin and signaling of the receptor following binding of beta-endorphin. Three clinical studies report that A118G genotype affects opioid antagonist-mediated increases in cortisol levels. These studies demonstrate a functional role of this variant in responses to endogenous and exogenous opioids. To further characterize function, we expressed the prototype and variant receptors in two types of cells (human 293 embryonic kidney cells and Syrian hamster adenovirus-12-induced tumor cells). Stable expression of variant and prototype receptors was characterized by differences in levels of cell surface binding capacity (B(max)), forskolin-induced cAMP accumulation, as well as agonist-induced accumulation of cAMP (EC(50)) for several agonists, but not for beta-endorphin. In contrast, transiently expressed variant receptors showed only a minor difference in cell surface binding capacity compared to the prototype, and no differences in cAMP EC(50) values.